My thoughts today are prompted by a discussion with someone very close to me. We don’t see eye to eye on some fundamental things, though we do have many, many points of agreement. He does not believe that Jesus lived, died on a cross, rose from the dead, was God in the flesh and offers salvation to mankind for sin and restoration of relationship with God. I could summarize his beliefs as he has explained them to me, and as I understand them to be, but that isn’t the point here.
The bottom line is that these are my beliefs, and he doesn’t agree with me. He is very forceful and strong in his disagreement with me about these things. He is an intelligent person. He has read a lot and has a lot of knowledge regarding certain things, but his arguments are not convincing to me.
In our last conversation, which got heated, he challenged me on the basis that I came to the fundamental conclusions to which I still hold (now in my 50’s) in my early twenties. He contended that I have inflexibly held to my beliefs and have spent the last thirty-some years simply confirming the position I came to long ago.
To be honest, I have to acknowledge that he is right in certain respects. I have not changed the fundamental position to which I arrived years ago. And, I have been thinking about that ever since.
Of course, I pointed out to him that, just because I have not changed that fundamental position, doesn’t mean that I have not been open to seeking truth wherever it may lead. I have changed my view on many things over those years, but I have not changed my position on those fundamental things.
I have taken time ever since our discussion ended to examine myself in light of the contention that, perhaps, I have not been open-minded enough, and have not been willing to expose myself to truths that tend to counter my worldview.
Truth does matter to me. It always has. As a Christian, it could mean life or death, eternal life, or eternal separation from God. And if I am wrong, I would be free from the constraints that bind me now as a believer, and I could live my life any way that I please.
It would be easy not to believe that these things make so much of a difference. That would take away all the pressure. If I didn’t think these things were life and death matters, I could have the liberty to experiment and try on different thoughts, ideas, philosophies, and religions. My life would be a lot simpler if I could believe whatever I wanted to. I could also simply affirm what other people believe because it would make no difference.
In my nature, I want to affirm people because I like connecting with people. And, even though many people don’t agree with my view of things, I do still desire to connect with people because… we are all people after all. I am no different from them, and they are no different from me though we may disagree.
There was a time in my life when I was agnostic. I didn’t know what the truth was, but I wanted to know it. I felt the joyous freedom of being able to explore everything available to me. This was my position and my motivation when I went to college. I loved to learn, and I was excited about the prospect of uncovering Truth, idea by idea, philosophy by philosophy, literary work by literary work, and religion by religion. I was confident truth was knowable and available to be found just about anywhere.
I figured that, if truth was objective and knowable, threads of that Truth could be found everywhere and anywhere. I still believe that.
I have told my story a number of times. I was exposed to world religions in a world religion class my freshman year in college. From that exposure, I was first lured by the Eastern religions, and Buddhism in particular. I was not particularly attracted to Christianity. I was raised Catholic, but the Catholic Church seemed to have nothing for me. It never had. I was never comfortable in church, and I didn’t like it.
I won’t repeat the story here. The bottom line is that I eventually became a believer in Jesus Christ and had a series of very personal experiences and encounters with the Person that people call the Living God. I submitted myself to Jesus as “my Lord and Savior” (as Christians say).
This doesn’t mean that I willed myself to be good or that I actually became good through my efforts. I am no better a person today than I was then. It was more of a submission of my will than an exercise of the will. It was more of a giving up than a striving. I simply entrusted myself to the Person of God as revealed in Jesus Christ and gave myself over to Him.
And everything changed. I experienced a freedom, a joy, a lightness of being and a peace that I had not known before then. (It isn’t all that way all the time, by the way. There is much more to that story. I have come to find that struggle is the way God works in us and out of us the things that we can’t work into or out of ourselves.)
This all sounds very simplistic from someone who has devoted his life to critical thinking. I went on to go to law school and become a lawyer, and I have practiced law for over 25 years. But, it really is simple.
I became a Christian halfway through my college years. After coming to trust in Jesus Christ, those simplistic assertions were challenged again and again. Those beliefs were put through the wringer, shaken and tested and challenged from every angle. In fact, though I was an English literature major, I took enough classes to be a religion major. My Religion professors included a very liberal Christian professor, who believed that all roads lead to the top of the same Mountain, and a Jewish professor. Some of the most difficult and fundamental challenges came from my professors, and I am grateful for it.
I learned much from them and am forever indebted to them. There was little confirmation of my “bias” in those college years. I stood in a position that was assailed from every side. I was a very new, “baby Christian” exposed to the harsh realities of a hostile world (in the sense that most of the ideas and positions I was exposed to were oppositional to the idea that Jesus was “the way, the truth and the life” as he claimed to be – not that people were hostile to me).
I came through those college years with a much stronger faith then when I first committed my life to Christ. The simple, fundamental position I embraced held up to the rigor of the challenge.
My faith has not always been so unshakable. In fact, there were many doubts, especially in those early years, but, perhaps the biggest challenge, came during my years in law school. Law school was academically rigorous and demanding of my time, but the shaking of my faith did not come from any academic or intellectual challenge. It came from within my own heart. I began to pull away from God in myself as I became absorbed and preoccupied with other things, like the academic rigor, the need to make money to support my family, the worries of life and distractions from the pleasures that tempted me away from God.
I began to embrace things I had long ago let go. I strayed from God, and I began to cozy up to sin that I had once rejected and rooted out of my life. It’s not an understatement to say that there is nothing like sin to separate one from God and inhibit that intimate relationship with God that we can have in Christ. It seems that we are either tending toward God or away from Him at any given point in our lives, and when we tend away from Him, we lose that connection with Him. He lets us go our own way because He is love, and love does not coerce.
But because He is love, He also takes us back.
I am extremely thankful that God is faithful, though I am faithless. God is full of grace and his mercies truly are new every morning. I have been reinvigorated in my faith in God today after years of wandering in the dessert. And, I can also confidently say that it was nothing that I did. It was simply God and His grace and his faithfulness not to let go of me though I, at times, have been willing to let go and walk away from him.
This finally brings me to the point I want to make as I think through the challenge that I was given. I apologize for taking so long to get to it. Before I get there, though, I need to acknowledge one other thing.
I do spend a lot of time researching, writing, thinking about the Bible and the God revealed in it from many different angles. I was accused of bias, and even the ugly specter of confirmation bias. Aside from the fact that confirmation bias is a conversation stopper and a discussion ender, it is a real thing, and I am probably guilty of it. We all are. We all start from some place, and that starting place does in large part dictate where we end up.
To answer that charge, though, I do read contrary thoughts and positions from people like Bart Erhman, Richard Dawkins, Lawrence, Kraus, Neil deGrasse Tyson and many others, but none of them are persuasive to me. In fact, when I read them, I become more and more convinced of the simple, fundamental truths that have come to define me, and I am indebted to them and to everyone who challenges me to think and to reexamine what I believe.
It isn’t just academic for me. I have found relationship with God through those simplistic notions: that Jesus was God who became a man (in doing so, he didn’t cease to be God, but he took on all that it means to be human and to experience humanity – an amazing notion); he performed miracles, served others and submitted himself to die on a Roman cross for our sins, though he was a sinless himself; he rose from the dead as he said he would, and he appeared to many people in the flesh before ascending to be with God the Father. He also left behind His Spirit that is available to us to guide us, comfort us and sustain us.
This seems like a fantastic story, but the people with whom he lived stand as witnesses to that story. They were willing to be persecuted and to die for those simple assertions. If there was a body to be found, if they had not seen him themselves in his crucified flesh, alive and well and put their hands in his wounds, they certainly would not have been willing to die for those assertions.
If God did, indeed, create the world, the lesser miracle of raising a body from the dead is certainly possible. The fact that people don’t simply rise back to life after being dead is no refutation of the fact, if it occurred, because that is the point. It is a miracle. It isn’t something that happens every day (or ever). It demonstrated that Jesus was Who he said he was.
I have put the Bible and the God described in it to the test in my own life, by submitting myself to Him, and I have not been disappointed. It hasn’t been easy, and there have been many doubts, but time and again I have found in the intimate relationship that was opened up to me when I first submitted to God that God is true, and He is what He says He is. Though I have looked, I have found no other words that give life. I have found no reason to stray from them. I have no reason to let go now and grab a hold of something else. CS Lewis said more eloquently than I:
“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”